For someone who likes to brag about his ability to seal the deal and pick winners, President Donald Trump has been on an impressive streak of picking losing battles.
After backing a series of unsuccessful health care repeal efforts and a failed attempt to weaken a congressional effort to slap new sanctions on Russia, Trump has thrown his questionable political weight behind another effort that could already be doomed: The RAISE Act.
The bill, authored by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA), was unveiled on Wednesday at the White House and touted as a way to ensure that American workers’ wages and job security are prioritized, and that legal, skilled immigrants who speak English are sent to the front of the employment line. The legislation, billed as reforming the green-card process, would slash legal immigration in half over 10 years as well as cut the number of refugees to the U.S. by 60 percent.
At a White House ceremony formally endorsing it, Trump touted the legislation as a means to “restore the sacred bonds of trust between America and its citizens” and to “demonstrate our compassion for struggling American families.”
Left unmentioned was that it almost surely will never become law.
The measure, as written, would face stiff opposition on Capitol Hill. For starters, all Democrats are almost certain to oppose it, which by itself would tank the bill since the legislation would need 60 votes in order to advance to a final floor vote.
And while several Republican senators told The Daily Beast they would likely support the legislation, all 52 certainly won’t. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) immediately came out against the bill, saying it would have “devastating” impacts on his state’s economy because it relies on immigrants in industries such as agriculture and tourism.
Even if brought to the floor, the legislation would immediately face procedural logjams. Amendments could be added by vote, which senators on Wednesday predicted their colleagues would try and do.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, indicated it would be difficult for him to bring up the legislation in his committee because “if we do that, Cotton and Perdue aren’t going to get what they want anyway.”
“If I can get this bill up just based upon the merits of the bill and amendments directly to that point—and from the left I don’t get amendments that we ought to give everybody citizenship every day, and on the right I don’t get—let’s just say, we’ve got people in the Congress who think we shouldn’t have any immigration,” a visibly frustrated Grassley told reporters.
But that’s just the start of the hurdles facing the Cotton-Perdue-Trump proposal. Adding a complicated issue such as immigration reform to the Senate’s docket at a time when senators are locked in deep disagreements over the path forward on health care and tax reform would effectively doom the plan in its tracks.
“It would be a trifecta. Health care and taxes is tough enough,” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) told The Daily Beast. Isakson indicated he wouldn’t support the Cotton-Perdue bill because a low unemployment rate, as is the case today, usually warrants an increase in immigration “because you have more jobs for them to do.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of Senate leadership, told reporters that he expected infrastructure to be the next agenda item after tax reform, even as the administration put “a big priority on immigration as well.” Thune said infrastructure legislation likely won’t be crafted until next year, leaving the new immigration push in limbo.
Asked whether it’s wise to put such a divisive issue on the agenda with other tough legislative hauls, Thune smiled and said, “Tax reform should be more unifying.”
Still, Perdue and his allies are clinging to hope that the bill they promoted could come to a floor vote. And though he conceded that neither he nor GOP leaders would be able to prevent Democrats or other Republicans from adding amendments, he urged for it to come to the floor as a stand-alone.
“What we’ve done in the past with these immigration issues is we keep adding on and adding on and adding on,” Perdue told The Daily Beast. “I think this one stands on its own merit….One of the problems we’ve had on immigration, like a lot of other things, is that the bigger it gets, the harder it is to get everybody’s vote.”
Perdue did not seem concerned about adding such a controversial and complex issue to the Senate’s legislative agenda, telling The Daily Beast immigration reform was a key tenet of Trump’s successful presidential campaign. The White House, likewise, argued that Congress could, as Press Secretary Sarah Sanders put it, “walk and chew gum at the same time.”
It’s a tough case to make for an administration whose influence on Capitol Hill has waned significantly. The president has seen his approval numbers slip after a series of slip-ups stemming from the probe into possible collusion with Russia, chaos surrounding the Obamacare repeal debate, as well as internal White House turmoil. A newly released poll from Quinnipiac showed that Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump’s job performance, 61 to 33 percent, with “white voters with no college degree, a key part of the president's base, disapprov[ing] 50 - 43 percent.”
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hawk who previously worked on the issue for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, expressed a passionate, yet seemingly unfounded, optimism that senators would simply be swept up in the “momentum” for the bill.
“It's been my experience in the legislative process that there's two kinds of proposals, there's proposals that can only succeed in the dark of night and proposals that can only succeed in the light of day,” Miller said. “This is the latter of those two. The more that we, as a country, have a national conversation about what kind of immigration system we want and to whom we want to give green cards to, the more unstoppable the momentum for something like this becomes.”
But the immediate sell for the bill seemed less about “momentum” then about regaining political standing.
The Republican National Committee blasted out a series of talking points about the legislation to its surrogates on Wednesday. The memo, which was reviewed by The Daily Beast, touts the president’s campaign promises on immigration, and his “America First” governing philosophy.
Additionally, hardline immigration groups warned Republicans that efforts to stymie the Cotton-Perdue bill would have negative consequences.
“Those in opposition to this bill will be jeopardizing an opportunity for the Republican Party to take control of middle-class voter interests,” Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told The Daily Beast. “Our unified messaging now allows us to create major headaches for senators who stand in opposition.”
—Betsy Woodruff contributed reporting.